It started within minutes of leaving the cottage on our first morning back in the city.
As we crossed Cortland Avenue in Bernal Heights to indulge in a Progressive Grounds brunch, an elderly woman walking her dog launched a cheery “hello British people” in our direction. No sooner had we digested this unexpected salutation than she had moved on her way, satisfied, I hope, that she had made us feel immediately at home in the neighborhood.
And, less than a week later, that feeling has only grown progressively stronger.
I suspect that it has been partly fuelled by a request from the moderator of the Bernalwood website and associated Facebook page to make us feel welcome if we were spotted out and about.
If so, it has certainly worked!
But the reaction has still been remarkable. I feel like a minor celebrity every time I step out of the cottage.
But I think it has more do with the fact that the people in this neighborhood are just so nice and welcoming.
Yesterday, a woman leaned out of her car window as she pulled up at Cortland and Ellsworth and called out:
“Hey, are you the British guy?”
As I stood in my Grateful Dead t-shirt taking photographs of a sign explaining how to dispose of your dog poop, all I could muster in my surprise was:
“Is it that obvious?”.
But by this time she had moved away, though not without a friendly wave.
Perhaps she had recognized me from photographs.
Or rather assumed that the clichéd touristy garb and eccentric behavior had me clearly marked down as a crazy limey.
Either way, I was grateful (no pun intended).
Much as I have enjoyed staying in other neighborhoods in recent years, I can comfortably assert that Bernal Heights has captured my heart like no other.
Pretty, civilised, quirky and friendly (everyone on the street, in the cafes, restaurants and stores says hello – even the dogs), only birdsong and the gentle hum of the occasional automobile or 24 or 67 Muni bus (and next door’s dog on the past two mornings) ever disturb the calm.
I have two other examples of how willing and accommodating the residents have been to me.
I visited the local branch of the San Francisco Public Library in pursuit of printing my latest blog article on our second morning. I was impressed by the free fifteen minute internet computers but utterly bewildered by the complex process for printing the pages out.
A lady librarian patiently talked me through – twice, or it may have been even three times – the registration and payment procedure until I was able to achieve my aim.
In the course of this, we got into conversation about my arrangement with Bernalwood, which she was fascinated by. We talked briefly too about the fact that, perhaps unlike other San Francisco neighborhoods, Bernal Heights had a genuine sense of community and a real village atmosphere.
I was already beginning to appreciate that.
Shortly after this I called into the Heartfelt gift shop and enquired, understandably sheepishly, whether they stocked a pencil sharpener. The girl who served me could not have been more helpful, and eventually, after several false trails – mainly in the children’s section – and mutual chuckling, I parted with $3.81 for a pencil that not only had a sharpener appended to one end but had the added if unnecessary bonus of an eraser at the other.
The next morning, after a splendid brunch at the Liberty Cafe, my wife and I called in again. The same girl recognized me and was immediately chatty about what our plans for the day were, joking that she never made it down to San Jose because she could never get up early enough!
Friendly attentive service was also the order of the evening when we had dinner in Piqueo’s, a superb Peruvian restaurant on Cortland. It was so comforting too not to feel pressurized to eat up and leave as soon as possible, as can often be in the case in American restaurants.
And the list goes on.
Thank you people of Bernal!
I hope our second week produces further examples of your hospitality and generosity.